Utah leaders for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently sent a letter to members urging them to wear masks in public and be “good citizens” to “help promote the health and general welfare of all.”
But it may not have done much to change member’s opinions about face coverings.
Since being sent to Latter-day Saint Utahns on July 10, people have been interpreting the letter very differently. Some people believe it doesn’t carry as much weight because it didn’t come from the First Presidency.
St. George business owner Derrik Staheli said he doesn’t see the request to wear a mask as a commandment from the Church’s prophet. He also proudly said he’s never worn a mask and never will.
“A lot of faithful members will get caught up on receiving suggestions from local authorities as the word of God [and] that thought process goes against what the whole church teaches about free agency if it’s not a commandment,” Staheli said.
On the other hand, Geoff Openshaw said he’s shocked people don’t agree with the letter. But Openshaw, the founder of the podcast “This Week in Mormons,” said members often rely on personal revelation to decide what teachings they choose to follow.
“We all practice selective obedience in one way or another,” Openshaw, who lives in Washington D.C., said. “For me, rolling my eyes about anyone taking an issue with the face masks, I’m sure there are other things that have come out of the church that I’ve struggled with more.”
At this point, face coverings have become political, said Utah State University Religious Studies Professor Patrick Mason. And generally, people’s religious views come secondary to their politics.
“It’s too late for the church to shape the narrative,” Mason said. “It may shape some behavior and it can control its own spaces but members of the church have already made up their minds one way or another.”
Since the Church sent its letter to members, Utah has reported over 3,500 cases of COVID-19.